“The Justice League saved my life.”
That’s a strong statement, but one that new author Doug Youngs doesn’t consider an exaggeration.
I first met Doug, a new author who recently published a pair of superhero-genre books, when he reacted strongly to an admittedly snarky article I wrote for The Inquisitr about the casting of Jason Momoa as Aquaman in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman movie — and presumably in the rest of the stable of upcoming Justice League films. You can read that article and the relevant comments here. As Doug and I bantered about the relative merits of Aquaman as a character, it became obvious that there was something to his reaction — a story well worth telling, a story I believe will resonate with Justice League fans and — quite possibly — with those who have been through the kind of abuse that Doug has survived.
I caught up with Doug recently to get his thoughts on surviving abuse, the various Justice League films past and upcoming and his own books, Regulators: Hell On Earth, Parts I and II:
So, here we are. We didn’t start off on the best foot. Let me start by saying I truly did not mean to offend anyone with my Aquaman piece and I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. I normally reserve that for my op-ed and political pieces.
Hey, no problem, I get a little too stirred up too easily sometimes.
I think we all have things we’re passionate about… for you, it would appear, it’s superheroes. You mentioned that they (the Justice League) were an important part of your life growing up. Tell me about that.
When I was 11, I was in fear of my father all the time, sometimes he was a monster and I lived a lot in a world I made up. This box of comic books landed in my lap and it was amazing — that was what I wanted, so I made costumes and my brothers and I and a few friends were the Justice League. Those were the best days of my life. I was safe in my Justice League world.
Makes sense that you would have grown attached to the characters. Which ones were your favorites?
I was always Batman or the Flash, and my brothers were Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter.
Who was Aquaman? Sorry I couldn’t resist.
This kid named Richard Bates that went by Dickie, but he bowed out after being part of our club for a week. He was blond, no Jason Momoa.
Hopefully it wasn’t because he had to play Aquaman.
We kind of pushed him into it, it was like on Big Bang Theory (episode in which Raj objects to having to be Aquaman at a costume party) exactly.
Yeah, it was usually that way when we played Superfriends in my neighborhood, too. You played Aquaman if you drew the short straw. That said, the more modern versions of him have become much cooler.
I like him, a lot, I think he is a valuable member of their team.
What do you like best about him?
Treated right, he is an arrogant barbarian with royal blood and he can get his way because he hits like Superman, but controls a greater portion of the Earth.
I didn’t know that. Based on the Superfriends I grew up with, I always thought telepathy was his only super power.
That and talking to fish.
Right. So, you mentioned that the Justice League – or playing as them, anyway – helped you through an abusive family situation. What can you tell me about that?
Our dad chased women after he threw our mother out and his job took him out of the house a lot at night, too. It was an escape. While he was around, I was afraid of him. He had a destructive temper and putting on my costume when he was gone took me away from that. I was the Batman and I could face anything, and I had my brothers and we were very close because of how he controlled our lives.
Being the Justice League brought us very close and it was the one thing that has always bound us together. My brothers are both younger than I. My next younger brother Jerry was the dashing pilot, Hal Jordan. He had the look, so he was Green Lantern. It was about the hair, and my youngest brother was always the muscles and he had a thing for Martian Manhunter.
So no Superman? Flash? Wonder Woman? Wonder Twins?
There were twins that lived down the street, John and Emily Level and John was my sidekick, Robin, and Emily was Wonder Woman… and for a couple of days there was a kid that wanted to be Superman. I got my first comic books in 1963 (before the Wonder Twins were part of DCU). Been hardcore DC Comics ever since, wanted a (Justice League) movie that long.
Did you watch the live action TV movie back in the ’70s? I was young at the time, but I remember even then thinking it was terrible – though I do give them props for including Hawkman.
I saw a part, and I hated it, there was nothing heroic about it. Too much camp, B-rated nonsense.
Well, after the ’60s Batman series…..
It’s funny, I always took the ’60s Batman serious at the time. It was great. Guess I was that attached and now I watch it and I think, wow, kind of dumb, but it’s a nostalgic part of my life.
Same here. I used to run home from the bus stop every day during first grade and the first half of second grade to watch it. Then one day, I got home, turned on the TV to see the exciting conclusion and the Three Stooges has replaced Batman. I was 7. To this day, I won’t watch the Three Stooges.
The Stooges were great way back, but now I see it as ignorant. I mean, I know it’s funny but it outlived its time — that kind of funny.
So, of the live action DC movies to date, which is your favorite?
Toss up between Green Lantern and the very first Superman movie with Christopher Reeve.
Green Lantern. Bold choice. Most fans weren’t happy with that one, though I don’t think anyone can argue that the special effects were incredible.
It was a family thing. My brother Jerry died of cancer before it came out and, like me, he waited a lifetime for a movie like that and missed it. Watching the movie for me and my brother Greg and our sister was like sharing a special moment in time because he was alive at that moment in the theater – and when Ryan Reynolds said the oath I cried. Greg dedicated the movie before we sat down.
Wow. That must have been a powerful moment. Sad and triumphant at the same time. Kind of like the best superhero stories are.
Oh, yeah, it was. The feeling was amazing after.
Speaking of great superhero stories, you’ve taken your childhood hobby/coping mechanism to the next level as an adult, I hear, and have created your own superhero story. Tell me about that.
The Regulators are 9 vigilantes with extraordinary powers who come out of the woodwork one at a time because there are things about the justice system and criminal behavior they can’t live with. So, they decide to take a new approach to the problem, which turns out to be a bit extreme. They take notice of each others’ behavior and it is only natural that they team up, out of curiosity at first, and become a family. Then, a monster comes along who plans to set the apocalypse in motion and they see it as their job to stop him. Because of the way they deal with the worst criminals, the government decides they have to be stopped and that gives the story something of a secondary plot.
From the portion of The Regulators that I read, it seemed a little dark compared to most of the superhero genre – or at least compared to the DCU. How would you compare your work to, say Justice League or the Marvel Universe?
I wanted to write a story about these kind of people and then show that they can have a lighter side, be a family like the other teams are not. I would say we are one step beyond the norm. They have rules, we make rules, they are two dimensional, we are three. They are less real, plastic if you will, and they have to think about it before they make hard choices that can mean the difference between life and death for innocent people.
So at the end of the day, it’s about the relationships they form (in The Regulators)?
Yes, very much about the relationships. They laugh, cry, and when it gets bad out, stand side by side, back to back.
So, in a way that kind of hails back to you and your brothers playing superheroes and facing the monster in the form of an abusive home life…..
Yeah, I suppose it is like that time in my life.
You mentioned in our prior conversation that some of your characters in The Regulators were based on or inspired by real people. What can you tell us about that? Were any of them based on your brothers?
The nine Regulators are based on myself and people I have met at work in the cafe where I work. I would say they are special, very caring people, interesting, unique and all share a love for comic book heroes, which is odd. They are not what you expect from co-workers.
So how did they shape The Regulators? Without spoiling the story, can you share how one or two of them affected your character design?
We started out with a character list, and (my co-worker) Darren, who is (Regulators character) Silver Bison, insisted on starting completely from scratch and wanted to have animal names, so we called him Silver Aardvark and Silver Monkey and things like that, but he wanted a character that reflected who he is – a professional wrestler. (Another co-worker) Stephanie chose who she is because of the fact that her birth parents are Italian and the back story she came up with had a Frenchman as someone who killed her parents. The name, Madame Orage is a French reminder of how she became who she is. We did this this over a period of several months.
So, did you create the characters as a collaborative storytelling? Or an RPG (role playing game)?
More as an RPG. We started out wanting to do our own comic book, played around with the idea of using digital pictures. When the idea started to turn old, we turned to the way that I write and took from the personalities of my friends to write the story with ideas I picked from them.
That’s pretty cool. Out of curiosity, did you hear that part of the new Star Wars Rebels is going to be based on concepts from an old RPG?
No, I hadn’t heard that, but I think it’s a good way to work.
Yeah. True story. Although they threw out practically the entire Extended Universe for Episode VII, they have indicated they’re going to incorporate aspects of the West End Games RPG from the ’80s. So, it CAN happen. Who knows, maybe someday someone will be playing The Regulators RPG.
I think you get characters that seem more real if you are playing it (an RPG) and your characters’ personalities come from real people. Everything has to be real.
That’s always been the attraction of face-to-face role playing games, hasn’t it?
Oh yeah, and I used to love gaming with friends. It was the best part of the week.
Lots of people out there that still look forward to it. So, back to the characters, tell us about Silver Bison and Madame Orage. This is a supers story, so they must have powers. What kinds of powers are we talking about? Where did you get the ideas?
Bison has super strength, can run extraordinarily fast, is invulnerable to a point, and he’s easy going and funny, hard to anger. Madame Orage is a weather witch who has some minor control of the elements of earth, fire and water as well and flies. She is the most caring person I have met – Stephanie that is – and her character is like that but she is also the scary member of the team. People are afraid of her and that gets her the special jobs, like dealing with a monster in the end.
I don’t want to spoil too much. Where can people find The Regulators?
Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble by order, a lot of bookstores around the country… even in stores that sell Italian restaurant supplies (chuckles). I have found the books listed on e-bay even.
Italian restaurant supplies? There must be a story behind that?
I was doing a search on Google, just to see how much attention the story is getting and an Italian restaurant supply company popped up. One of the things they sell is cookbooks and somehow we landed there. Craziest thing, and I was thinking,well, since Stephanie is Italian and her character Zoe Renshe /Madame Orage is Italian, it makes sense in some crazy way that it is listed there.
Nice. Hey, any publicity is good publicity, right?
Absolutely, I even use the wrestling company Darren is with to get a plug a couple of times a week. I sponsor them and they do ads at their shows and online for me.
Cool. How many copies have sold so far?
That is kind of embarrassing… a handful, giving them away in Kindle version has been the only real movement with 154 of those copies going. I know it’s the fact that people don’t know we are here and not being able to afford promos is hurting us but we have managed some things here and there and have plans to do a big re-launch in September.
We all have to start somewhere. Even the Justice League had to sell 150 copies before they could sell more… who knows, someday maybe we’ll be watching The Regulators on the big screen. In the meanwhile, we’re all looking forward to the spate of DC movies coming out over the next few years. Which one are you looking forward to most and why?
I think Justice League, assuming they have the right lineup. I’ve waited a lifetime for it, for myself and for my brothers and a couple of old friends. I want that very badly. Seeing that team on the big screen would kind of validate our lives.
Here’s hoping the Justice League does at least half the job saving the world in the movie that you and your brothers did in the same outfits.